I had a manager once tell me I was really “good out of the gate,” but my energy lessened as my shift wore on. I have found that to be a true description of how I generally approach many tasks in life: My motivation is generally quite high at the outset but begins to wane as time passes and problems and trials sap my strength.
The Christian walk, I have found, is not a sprint but a marathon. Years ago, I answered God’s call with such enthusiasm. Before he gave me a ministry, I begged him for one. I couldn’t wait to get started, and yet, when He gave me the ministry I so wanted, I begged Him shortly after on numerous occasions to let me quit (or at least walk away for a season). I have discovered over the last few years that I don’t have the endurance to complete the marathon. It is only in God’s power that I have kept on for these past few years and continue to keep on in my current season.
To Endure in Our Calling Requires a Continual Commitment
In John 21:15-23, we see a disciple who also has to be instructed when he is about to bomb out on his calling. After making boasts about what he will do for Jesus (Matthew 26:33), this prideful disciple gets a lesson in humility: He fails Jesus by denying him three times. Rather than cast out this disciple, though, Jesus takes the opportunity to teach Peter what it means to be a minister of the Gospel and run the race with endurance.
He asks Peter three separate times if Peter loves Him and then points him to a directive: feed his sheep. Each time Jesus asks, Peter responds by saying, “Lord, you know that I love you.” The last time Jesus asks, Peter shows a shift, prefacing the words with, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you” (v. 17). As I discussed in my last post, Peter’s response shows he is no longer bragging about his abilities. He simply states that he loves him. And, as the IVP New Testament Commentary observes, his last response shows a position of humility and acknowledgement of God’s sovereignty.
Peter’s new learned dependence on Jesus is that which is necessary for us to model if we are to complete our call (and how we can handle the failures that we are sure to have along the way), but there is another lesson embedded in their conversation. According to the IVP, each time Jesus asks represents those times in our lives that we will have the temptation to go an easier way. Service to God isn’t a call we answer one time in our lives. It is a call we answer over and over again.
As exemplified in the passage, we will have to continually renew our commitment to Jesus as we follow Him (IVP). This means that as we grow in spiritual maturity and Jesus reveals to us at different intervals what our walk is going to entail (letting go of a certain habit, overcoming a fear in an area, etc.), we must be willing to answer, “Yes, Lord, I love you [more than these].” I love you more than my comfort, my security, my desire for wealth, or acceptance. I am willing to give this up or work on this area for you. Again and again, Jesus will test us with the question He raised to Peter, “Do you love me [more than these other things]?” We have to be willing to allow Jesus to “raise the bar” in our lives as He teaches us what it means to be His follower.
To Endure We Must Also Stay Fixed on Jesus
Not only must we must be willing to repeatedly deny ourselves and renew our commitment to Him as we continue in our calling, we must not allow distractions to take our focus away from Jesus. Though Peter is making progress in his spiritual maturity and walk with Christ, he still has a human moment where he turns from his claims of devotion and takes his eyes off Jesus. When he learns that his call will entail going where he does not want to go and even being led to die as Jesus did by crucifixion (vv. 18, 19), he pauses for a moment and asks about the fate of John, who is following close behind.
Jesus tells him, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me” (v. 22). In other words, he tells Peter to only worry about himself. It is all too natural that Peter should be concerned about whether or not others will go through the same difficulties and suffering. But Jesus doesn’t give him the answer he wants, but tells him to stay focused on his own commission.
Too often, we compare our suffering in ministry to that of others. We’re OK with denying ourselves if others walk a similar road, but what if they don’t? What if Jesus has us in a place we don’t want to be, we suffer more than others, or Jesus leads in in a way that seems to be more treacherous than the path of other Christians? We must be willing to follow even if our road looks harder than that of others or is undesirable. As Romans 5:3 and James 1:2-4 tell us, our difficulties don’t have to knock us off the path — but rather, are the very tests that will develop fortitude in us if we let them.
Romans 5:3 (VOICE): “And that’s not all, we also celebrate in seasons of suffering because we know that when we suffer we develop endurance.”
James 1:2-4 (VOICE): “Don’t run from tests and hardships, brothers and sisters. As difficult as they are, you will ultimately [find joy in them]; if you [embrace them], your faith will [blossom under pressure] and [teach you true patience as you endure]. And true patience brought on by endurance will equip you to complete the long journey and cross the finish line — mature, complete and wanting nothing.”
Jesus’ conversation with Peter offers us some valuable insight into how we can develop and maintain the rigor and endurance it takes to complete the mission God gives us. Like Peter, we have to allow Jesus to turn us from our own desires, love of self, and pride and choose to follow Him again and again even when we’re tired, weary of trials, and disappointed because we don’t have the results or the perks others have. We will have obstacles that threaten to entangle us, but with continued commitment to Christ and a dependence on Him — we will finish the race.
Why must I weep when others sing?
“To test the deeps of suffering.”
Why must I work while others rest?
“To spend my strength at God’s request.”
Why must I lose while others gain?
“To understand defeat’s sharp pain.”
Why must this lot of life be mine
When that which fairer seems is thine?
“Because God knows what plans for me
Shall blossom in eternity.”
– from Streams in the Desert
Related Bible Verses:
Hebrews 12:1: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”
Hebrews 3:14: “For we have become partners with Christ, if in fact we hold our initial confidence firm until the end.”
Peter denied Jesus the night of Jesus’ arrest, not before.